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Writer Ashleigh Young has been announced as the first New Zealander to win the prestigious Windham-Campbell prize.
The prize is worth USD $160,000 and was awarded by Yale University for her 2016 collection of personal essays, Can You Tolerate This?.
“It completely changes everything,” said Young. “It’s kind of like a fairytale.”
Young plans to continue as an editor for Victoria University Press (VUP), while working on a forthcoming poetry collection. She said that, in terms of the future, people are often “incredibly impatient” about what’s next. “I’m reluctant to even think about it much myself. I just want it to exist as this nebulous, abstract idea at the moment.”
In addition to the Yale prize, Young has been shortlisted for the non-fiction category of the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.
Her work, published by VUP, appears alongside nine others published by university presses in the 16-piece shortlist. Steve Braunius from the Spinoff suggested that this signifies a narrowing of New Zealand publishing, but Young disagrees.
She said that the Ockham Awards “aren’t necessarily reflective of the New Zealand publishing industry as a whole,” pointing to a number of boutique presses, such as Serif Press and Mikaro Press, who are “doing amazing things.”
“University presses can afford to take risks because they are supported by the university. Any shortfall — and there is always a shortfall — is picked up […] so you can do some unusual projects, even if they aren’t going to sell really well […] that’s the biggest, and perhaps most unfair, advantage they have over smaller publishers.”
“The thing you see in smaller presses is amazing people pouring a huge amount of love into their work, and gathering a really great community around them — which I think we do, but with the boutique presses there’s more of a sense of urgency because it’s so hard when you’re doing it on your own, on a shoestring.”
“When I won this award, I was scared that someone like C. K. Stead […] would come and say, ‘this is ridiculous, what is she doing?’ and maybe that’s completely irrational, but there’s always this feeling.”
“You see a more barbed response to young women. There’s a dismissiveness, a more ready judgement […] The usual accusation is that it’s just self absorbed navel gazing, but you don’t get those comments so much about male writers. Often, it’s very insidious, very subtle, but it’s there.”